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Afro-Pentecostalism: Black Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity in History and Culture

Amos Yong
Estrelda Y. Alexander
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 271
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In 2006, the contemporary American Pentecostal movement celebrated its 100th birthday. Over that time, its African American sector has been markedly influential, not only vis-a-vis other branches of Pentecostalism but also throughout the Christian church. Black Christians have been integrally involved in every aspect of the Pentecostal movement since its inception and have made significant contributions to its founding as well as the evolution of Pentecostal/charismatic styles of worship, preaching, music, engagement of social issues, and theology. Yet despite its being one of the fastest growing segments of the Black Church, Afro-Pentecostalism has not received the kind of critical attention it deserves.Afro-Pentecostalism brings together fourteen interdisciplinary scholars to examine different facets of the movement, including its early history, issues of gender, relations with other black denominations, intersections with popular culture, and missionary activities, as well as the movement's distinctive theology. Bolstered by editorial introductions to each section, the chapters reflect on the state of the movement, chart its trajectories, discuss pertinent issues, and anticipate future developments.Contributors: Estrelda Y. Alexander, Valerie C. Cooper, David D. Daniels III, Louis B. Gallien, Jr., Clarence E. Hardy III, Dale T. Irvin, Ogbu U. Kalu, Leonard Lovett, Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., Cheryl J. Sanders, Craig Scandrett-Leatherman, William C. Turner, Jr., Frederick L. Ware, and Amos Yong

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8907-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Estrelda Y. Alexander and Amos Yong
  4. 1 Introduction: Black Tongues of Fire: Afro-Pentecostalism’s Shifting Strategies and Changing Discourses
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 2006, the contemporary American Pentecostal movement passed a milestone, celebrating its one hundredth birthday. Over that time, its African American sector has been markedly influential, not only vis-à-vis other branches of Pentecostalism but also throughout the Christian church. Still, this segment of Pentecostalism has not received the kind of critical attention it has deserved. As a central contributor to historic Pentecostalism and as one of the fastest growing segments of the Black Church, the African American Pentecostal movement increasingly clamors for scholarly assessment.

    Perhaps part of the reason for the neglect derives from overlooking African American agency at the...

  5. PART I: Origins

    • 2 The Azusa Street Mission and Historic Black Churches: Two Worlds in Conflict in Los Angeles’ African American Community
      (pp. 21-42)

      The Azusa Street Mission and the revival that it hosted between April 1906 and the end of 1909 have been the subjects of much study in recent years.¹ Yet while the Mission has been explored from various perspectives, it has never been considered specifically as one African American congregation among ten such congregations that served the African American people of Los Angeles in 1906. Similarly, the Azusa Street Mission has never been studied with the context of the larger African American community of Los Angeles clearly in focus. This is surprising for three reasons. First, the Azusa Street Mission was...

    • 3 Navigating the Territory: Early Afro-Pentecostalism as a Movement within Black Civil Society
      (pp. 43-62)

      Just prior to the advent of Pentecostalism among African American Holiness Christians in 1906, the Black Church was a predominately Baptist and Methodist entity. Nearly all African American Christians were Protestant, and 96 percent were either Baptist or Methodist. The membership of the four major black Protestant denominations—the National Baptist Convention, Inc., African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and Colored Methodist Episcopal Church—accounted for approximately 84 percent of the total all African American Christians, representing 3,113,625 out of a total of 3,685,097.¹

      Within a generation, Afro-Pentecostalism would attract more than 500,000 adherents, becoming the largest...

  6. PART II: Gender and Culture

    • 4 Laying the Foundations for Azusa: Black Women and Public Ministry in the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 65-82)

      Once, while lecturing in a course on Pentecostalism, I was struck by a student’s question.¹ The student asked simply, “Why Azusa?” In a sense, this young person was asking if phenomena like glossolalia had reoccurred at various times during history, why did these experiences come together so powerfully in the Pentecostal Revival at Azusa Street that began in 1906?² What particular circumstances—social, theological, political, or other—coalesced at Azusa to produce the wide-ranging, rapidly expanding movement we call Pentecostalism, the fastest growing Christian movement on earth, “accounting for one in every four Christians”?³

      Azusa Street was unique in many...

    • 5 Church Mothers and Pentecostals in the Modern Age
      (pp. 83-94)

      What would it mean to place Pentecostals at the center of histories of black religious culture in the modern era? And what would it mean to place women’s leadership at the center of our accounts of black Pentecostalism’s evolution into an urban religion three decades after the black poet Frances Harper declared in 1893 the “threshold of [a] woman’s era”?¹ From the testimonies of women he gathered for his seminalBlack Gods of the Metropolis,Arthur Fauset provides an avenue for us to consider these questions. By comparing the testimony of two Philadelphia women, one prominent and the other not,...

    • 6 Rites of Lynching and Rights of Dance: Historic, Anthropological, and Afro-Pentecostal Perspectives on Black Manhood after 1865
      (pp. 95-116)

      In traditional African societies, males became men not only by biological maturation but by social intervention. In other words, men were made by the community. Men were made through ritual process, through a communal rite of passage. This rite involved three stages. First, the boys-to-become-men were separated from the society of women and children. Second, the community of boys was subjected to an extended time of humiliation, ordeal, and instruction. Finally, the males were elevated to the status of men and reincorporated into the community with the rights and privileges of adult manhood.¹

      But the middle passage of African slaves...

    • 7 Crossing Over Jordan: Navigating the Music of Heavenly Bliss and Earthly Desire in the Lives and Careers of Three Twentieth-Century African American Holiness-Pentecostal “Crossover” Artists
      (pp. 117-138)

      This chapter centers on the lives and relatively brief careers of three African American male “crossover” artists whose religious and musical roots were in the Holiness-Pentecostal church. The lives of Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway, and Marvin Gaye are well chronicled in popular rock and roll, R&B, and soul musical literature. All three were versatile singers and songwriters, but perhaps their greatest gift was their ability to write and sing with conviction and spirit the songs they learned in church for secular audiences. Unlike their Pentecostal contemporaries, the iconic legends Jerry Lee Lewis and Lil’ Richard Penniman, neither of whom attempted...

  7. PART III: Prophetic Ethics

    • 8 Pentecostal Ethics and the Prosperity Gospel: Is There a Prophet in the House?
      (pp. 141-152)

      A dominant theme of modern Pentecostal preaching has been the promotion of the prosperity gospel, which emphasizes God’s will for the believer to become wealthy. But how many pastors who nurture their flocks with this message also embrace the social ethical role of the biblical prophets as advocates for the rights of the poor? Many Pentecostal preachers are abandoning the African American struggle against white racism, accepting faith-based government funding for their community development programs with all the strings attached, and buying into the divisive family values discourse crafted by political conservatives to attract the votes of white evangelicals. Are...

    • 9 Ethics in a Prophetic Mode: Reflections of an Afro-Pentecostal Radical
      (pp. 153-166)

      The ancient prophets were sent not only to foretell and predict events but to challenge the status quo in the name of YHWH. Any theology that does not seek to radically probe the nature and meaning of reality for our present moment is truncated and invalid. Ethics deals with the realm of “oughtness.” Its primary task at its best is to radically critique “what is” in light of “what ought to be.” To begin with, “what is” must be reality-based rather than a figment of one’s imagination before it can authentically move on to “what ought to be.” Sound ethics...

  8. PART IV: Pneumatology

    • 10 Pneumatology: Contributions from African American Christian Thought to the Pentecostal Theological Task
      (pp. 169-190)

      The maturity of Pentecostal theology demands development of a more robust theology of the Holy Spirit because of the centrality of the Spirit in Pentecostal spirituality and because the immanent and economic history of the Spirit is marked by movement toward liberty. A critical pneumatological discourse is essential for carrying Pentecostal theology beyond the apologetics that have come to be prominent in the tradition. What is needed is a pneumatology that moves the locus of discussion from narrow sectarian interests to those of the worldwide Christian communion.

      An important clarification is in order here: Pneumatology as a contribution of African...

    • 11 On the Compatibility/Incompatibility of Pentecostal Premillennialism with Black Liberation Theology
      (pp. 191-206)

      One aspect of African American religion and culture is the tendency toward utopian and eschatological vision, what I call the mythic dimension of racial consciousness.¹ Here is where the turn to another reality takes place, and where belief and hope are born. Here is a nostalgic longing for recovery of a lost past or a dream of a promising future. Brought forcefully and violently into a new emerging global system, oppressed Africans and their descendents formed different ideas about American identity and the role of America and its future in the world.

      This gaze forward into a time yet to...

  9. PART V: Afro-Pentecostalism in Global Context

    • 12 Black Joseph: Early African American Charismatic Missions and Pentecostal-Charismatic Engagements with the African Motherland
      (pp. 209-232)
      OGBU U. KALU

      The story of the African American charismatic–Pentecostal missionary enterprise to Africa beginning in the early twentieth century must be set within the larger framework of African American missionary engagement of Africa, which started in the nineteenth century. Ironically, black people who were brutally taken away from their ancestral homes have played enormous roles in the evangelization of their African homelands. The slave trade that had vitiated the missionary impulse between 1500 and 1800 yielded the resources for counteracting its effects on Africa. Yet because Europeans have dominated the storytelling about the expansion of Christianity into non-Western worlds, the roles...

    • 13 Meeting Beyond These Shores: Black Pentecostalism, Black Theology, and the Global Context
      (pp. 233-248)

      More than thirty years have passed since Leonard Lovett’s dissertation, “Black Holiness-Pentecostalism: Implications for Ethics and Social Transformation,” first appeared.¹ In that work, Lovett sought to lay the groundwork for a fuller dialogue between black theology and the black Pentecostal movement. Three decades later that dialogue has still hardly begun. Over the intervening years, Pentecostalism has grown exponentially as a global movement. In the process, the significance of the African American contributions to the formation of Pentecostalism globally has been somewhat obscured, ignored, or even erased. I will not re-argue here the thesis regarding the African American origins of Pentecostalism...

  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 249-252)
  11. Contributors
    (pp. 253-254)
  12. Index
    (pp. 255-261)